Ecommerce in the UAE and MEMA: Insights from VL OMNI

If you were lucky enough to be one of the top merchants Creative 971 and VL OMNI reached out to to extend an invitation to, then you’re already way in the know: Ecommerce in Dubai, in the UAE, and in MEMA is on a tear like no other region VL OMNI has seen.

Bringing the first-ever Shopify Plus event to the United Arab Emirates and downtown Dubai, the VL OMNI team was privileged to have been shown first-hand by ecommerce experts Creative 971 everything that the bustling and growing city (and country) has to offer. Over the course of our 6 day visit, we met with countless passionate entrepreneurs, top brands, and cutting-edge ecommerce businesses operating locally and internationally at and around the event.

And we were astounded and impressed by the incredible activities and fervent passion for all things ecommerce. In an area of the world where not all tools are yet available to these brands, they’re not only making ecommerce work, but are doing so in amazing ways.

Keep reading for our account of all things ecommerce for the UAE and beyond.

Even though VL OMNI was in Dubai for a short six days, those days were packed with conversation, meetings, and many opportunities to exchange ideas and insights on ecommerce globally and locally. It was an incredible experience loaded with insight. Of everything we saw and learned, there were three general ideas that we packed into our bags and took back home with us.

Ecommerce is experiencing incredible growth in the UAE and MEMA

One thing that struck our team repeatedly while we were in Dubai was the starkly different notion of what locals view as “old”. “Old” and “historic” for the area really means anything more than 40 years old. (For comparison’s sake, many of our homes in North America are much older than this.) The message is clear: MEMA is a rapidly developing region experiencing incredible change and growth. This is none more apparent that in Dubai, the epicenter of development and innovation for the United Arab Emirates.

With critical infrastructure like high-speed internet currently undergoing revitalization and improvements, it’s clear that supporting online activities is a priority for the UAE. But our ideas of the sophistication of ecommerce brands in the area before arriving were that they were doing great things; upon arrival and seeing things first-hand, we were blown away by just how accurate we were in our assumptions.

Ecommerce in the UAE and MEMA is catching on like wildfire, and brands are absolutely savvy on what tools are out there for engendering an incredible customer journey and experience at all touch points. Which takes us into insight #2…

Ecommerce is experiencing incredible growth in the UAE — even with a truncated tool set

As mentioned above, Dubai and the UAE are undergoing some massive infrastructure improvements. One such project is improving the internet for the region. If you’ve ever tried to have a virtual meeting with a contact in the area, you likely already know that the speed and reliability of the internet for the area is spotty. Only certain services work, and even then you can expect random outages.

The same goes for the ecommerce industry. Even though brands are doing incredible things, they’re also doing so without the availability of many tools, channels, resources, and more that we take for granted in the other markets VL OMNI operates in — North America, and the UK. But instead of shutting off parts of their business that are perhaps a bit more difficult to orchestrate or access in the same way other brand can and do, UAE and MEMA brands instead get incredibly creative with how to still reach their end goals with the resources they have available to them.

For example, Facebook Marketplace and Instagram Ecommerce — two very popular sales channels in North America — are not available in the UAE and many parts of MEMA. But the social channels themselves are extremely popular (Snapchat, too), leaving brands with a decision to make: ignore the channels to instead focus on elements within reach, or get creative. We were heartened to see that UAE and MEMA brands overwhelmingly buckled down and have chosen to get creative time and time again. For social in particular, we saw countless incredible brands engaging directly with their audiences, using filters and geo-tags, and building communities on various social platforms. The result is a genuinely engaged audience who are absolutely passionate about the brands the engage with.

MEMA is also faced with the most mundane of challenges when it comes to local and international (including regional) ecommerce: language and currency barriers. With a variety of currencies and dialects in a close-knit part of the world, embedded tools resolving multi-currency and multi-lingual issues are not often part of the default technologies MEMA brands employ. Many aren’t daunted by this bottleneck and have instead looked to find third-party specialists that can help them implement solutions.

And on the surface as a consumer? You’d never notice the difference.

Ecommerce brands aren’t afraid to experiment with new technology

And finally, MEMA and UAE ecommerce brands are absolutely not afraid to experiment with new technology. It’s no secret that the region is flush with cash, and with that cash comes the opportunity to innovate on some serious scale. Given the budding potential of ecommerce with its relative newness to the region, its no small wonder that innovation is also pushing the folds of ecommerce and omnichannel shopping. From smart mirrors, to digital concierge services, to the luxury golf cart-eque vehicle that will come pick you up from any store in the luxury wing of the Mall of the Emirates, Dubai was a veritable playground of the most cutting-edge technology consumers can and can’t see. UAE brands are very cognisant of what ‘the best’ of any category they’re evaluating is, and they are not afraid to pursue it. All in the name of creating a better brand, brand community, and customer experience.

The UAE and MEMA are an incredible hub of ecommerce development and growth, and there’s very little sign of this slowing any time soon. It’s an absolutely vibrant and exciting part of the world that’s changing at a rapid pace. VL OMNI can’t wait to see what’s new and trending by the next time we visit!

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